Can transparency go too far? How can companies make actionable decisions with the data they collect? What should a firm’s response be when its ethics and compliance hotline is overrun with complaints about discrimination—by white male employees?

Fifteen high-level compliance executives candidly discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by an ever-changing compliance landscape Monday during a first-ever executive think tank session at Compliance Week’s National Conference in Washington, D.C.

CW2022 Think Tank

The Compliance Week 2022 executive leadership think tank was open to a limited number of participants and featured forward-thinking compliance, risk, and governance practitioners exchanging ideas without fear of attribution.

The executives felt free to debate these issues because Compliance Week agreed not to directly attribute their stories, tips, and advice to them or the companies they work for. The participating compliance professionals represent some of the world’s most recognizable businesses in technology, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, retail, publishing, fintech, and an insurance startup.

The think tank identified some of the most pressing issues in compliance, like how to develop a corporate culture in which employees are invested as part of a team. One panelist described great corporate culture as “a shared vision for success,” and another said it was “a community of shared values.”

One panelist relayed a story about how her small company held weekly “all-hands-on-deck” leadership meetings at which concerns and issues from employees were discussed—and actions were taken. Coming from a large company with a more cautious process for handling employee concerns, the panelist said the change was jarring.

But when some leadership team members pushed back that perhaps there was too much transparency, the CEO said no and that the company was building something and everyone should be involved. Another chief compliance officer said he held weekly, open FaceTime sessions at which any employee could discuss a concern or issue.

“Exhausting but wonderful” was one description of exceptional transparency. What it accomplished was to connect leadership to employees and promote engagement.

On finding actionable patterns in corporate data, one technology firm shared a technique it thought would be useful for compliance purposes. The firm set up 500 “signals,” or alerts, that noted when data was trending in a particular way. While the results of these data analyses did have compliance applications, the data was even more helpful for spotting trends for other departments, like sales or human resources.

Many panelists remarked businesses were forced to confront and comment on cultural and social trends pushed by the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, or Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Compliance, more than any other division within their firms, is perhaps best situated to ensure corporations are held accountable for promises made on social and cultural issues. Accountability builds up trust in a company and makes it a place people want to work for, several participants agreed. Companies should strive to use a strong corporate culture to be seen as “employer of choice” to attract and retain employees.

The panelists expressed concern concepts everyone should be able to agree on—that racism is bad and workplaces should be safe and healthy—have become politicized. And that even seemingly innocuous positions on the social issues of the day can make some portions of a firm’s workforce feel excluded.

The company’s response should be to disseminate more information about why a particular decision was made and create feedback loops where employees can comment and feel heard. Ignoring a group of unhappy employees is never going to end well, they said.